A leading James Cook University scientist and internationally recognised environmentalist says the Amazon jungle is about to be cut in half by a new paved highway.
Distinguished Research Professor Bill Laurance is the founder and director of the Alliance of Leading Environmental Researchers and Thinkers (ALERT). Professor Laurance has actively studied the Amazon rainforest for the past quarter century.
He says Brazil is working to complete a dramatic upgrade to the BR-319 Highway, an 870-kilometer-long road segment running between Manaus in central Amazonia to Porto Velho in southern Amazonia.
Once completed, this fully paved highway will link directly to the BR-174 Highway, which runs from Manaus to the northern border of Brazil.
Professor Laurance said there is no doubt that roads cutting through environmental areas open a Pandora’s Box of environmental ills.
“Together, these two highways will slice the Amazon in half along a north-south axis. Time and again with new roads we see major increases in poaching, fires, forest fragmentation, exotic species invasion, illegal logging and mining following in their wake.”
He said the BR-163, another paved highway across the southern Amazon, resulted in a massive line of human-lit forest fires that would have been visible from the moon.
Professor Laurance said some protected or indigenous areas are in place but not nearly enough to staunch the impacts that will arise from opening up the Amazon so profoundly to human activities.
Professor Laurance urged the Brazilian government to either increase protected areas and enforcement against illegal forest exploitation along the planned road route, or cancel the highway project altogether.
“Sadly, this is one of those environmental crises that you can see coming from ten thousand miles away,” said Laurance.
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Distinguished Professor William Laurance